No, Travel Is Not a Frivolous Hobby for Me

If you have been following my blog regularly, you are aware that I’ve lost a lot in the past couple years:

Last winter, I lost loved ones to death.

Last June, I lost my appendix in a much needed appendectomy.

In February, I lost my breast to a mastectomy (but yay, it was so I could lose a tumor).

In March, I lost a lot of eggs, but it was to preserve my fertility as a cancer patient. Simultaneously, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, March was a time that I lost a lot of direct contact with friends who were doing chores and errands for me during my recovery from my mastectomy.

As you could imagine, I’ve lost money to medical bills that accompanied my unanticipated cancer diagnosis. I also lost income by taking a leave from work.

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Photo from Flickr

I may have lost some other things, but those are the major losses that come to mind.

Before I took medical leave for my mastectomy, many friends and family told me I would have to adjust to a new normal. Now they’re figuring out what it means to adapt to their own new normal during this pandemic.

As a cancer and fertility patient at the start of the pandemic, I had a front row seat to the changes that were happening in the healthcare system. Because of this perspective, I didn’t have mental capacity to comfort other people whose losses I found to be frivolous.

I didn’t understand why others were so cavalier about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, keeping brunch plans with friends, playing a variety of team sports at the park, and participating in other non-essential activities when public health guidelines were recommending otherwise.

I was incensed at people who insisted on keeping their travel plans, especially if it was for leisure.

In March, my neighbor opted to fly to her friend’s bachelorette party in Miami. Meanwhile, worldwide people were canceling trips. She acknowledged that other women in the bridal party had canceled their flights. However, she was the maid of honor and didn’t want to let down her friend; therefore, she insisted on flying to Miami.

Under normal circumstances, I applaud people who show up for their friends no matter what; however, this sounded like a misguided way to demonstrate her commitment to her friend.

That weekend, I had so much going on in my own life that I didn’t have the mental capacity to share my unsolicited commentary with my neighbor.

What did I have going on? The fertility cycle for my egg retrieval.

Today marks exactly one month after my egg retrieval. What’s currently at the top of my mind?

Travel, or the lack thereof.

This is the time of year that I either would be traveling or would be planning to travel.

In November, I bought tickets to Austin, TX, for May. Clearly, that’s not happening.

Even after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, I still didn’t cancel the trip. After talking to a few people, I realized that the trip could be a nice, simple treat to myself after recovering from my mastectomy.

In March, I canceled my vacation in Austin.

Now I have to find another way to treat myself.

Travel is not a frivolous hobby for me. It’s how I connect with loved ones, how I experience cultures that I’ve studied, how I experiment with new things, and how I escape whatever’s bothering me.

As I mentioned in a past post, I have family that lives around the globe. I also have friends that live in different countries so travel is the only way I can hang out with them.

I really feel for people who aren’t in a position to be near their loved ones because it isn’t safe for them to directly interact with one another. My friend’s father-in-law died from lung cancer, and her husband couldn’t travel to be with him due to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, I’ve heard different stories from friends that are comparable to this one, and my heart breaks every time. Because I live far from many of my friends and family, I get more tense each time I hear about one of these stories in my social circles.

Aside from travel enabling me to be close to friends and family, it has allowed me to experience so many of the cultures I’ve studied both in school and independently.

I majored in international studies, and minored in sociology and Spanish when I was in college. I studied abroad for a semester in Costa Rica and volunteered in a home for orphans there. I took side trips to Nicaragua and Panama. I loved Bocas del Toro in Panama so much that I sometimes think of retiring there (but with climate change, who knows what’ll happen).

As an adult, I’ve been able to fly to places where I could geek out on histories and cultures that I’ve read about. When I spent a month traveling to London, Paris, and Barcelona, I got to express my love for The Beatles on Abbey Road, visit The Tate and Louvre, drink lots of wine, and worship anything Gaudí ever touched.

If I wanted an island vibe, I got to hike the hills, forests, and beaches of the Philippines, Azores, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

If I wanted to indulge in asado and Malbec and explore Teatro Colón, I flew to Buenos Aires.

When I developed a taste for Rioja, I traveled to Spain. I enjoyed tapas; a hammam; flamenco; art by Picasso; and amazing architecture that highlighted Muslim, Jewish, and Christian influences across Málaga, Granada, Córdoba, and Sevilla. (If you couldn’t tell, I really liked being in Spain.)

I got to learn new things about myself when I traveled. After a fall hike in New Hampshire, I was convinced I was not cut out for hiking. Then a couple years later, a friend brought me to trails in Hawaii, and I realized I actually do like hiking. I just had to go to locations that truly interested me.

When I was with my ex, we went on a trip to the Azores, and we ended up canyoning. FYI I’m scared of heights, and I don’t swim well. The fact that I ended up doing an activity that included both heights and swimming speaks to 1) I loved that ex too much, and 2) I have the ability to face my fears and do things scared.

Sometimes the places I liked the most were not destinations that ranked high on my list. My aunt lives in Finland. When I was planning my trip to visit her, she suggested I check out Iceland, Sweden, and Russia. While planning for that trip, I was most excited for Stockholm (hello, ABBA and Swedish meatballs), but I ended up falling in love with St. Petersburg. If it weren’t for the visa restrictions at the time, I would’ve spent a lot longer than the 72 hours granted to American citizens who traveled via ferry from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. After spending hours inside of The Hermitage, I cannot get behind this idea of viewing art from a laptop. Like so many other museums, The Hermitage is offering virtual visits during the pandemic, but the thought of viewing any art virtually will just remind me of what I’m missing.

One side of me doesn’t want to write this blog post because it feels superficial to miss travel. For goodness sakes, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, and I’m undergoing cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. You would think other things would be on my mind.

Other things have been on my mind. I’ve been navigating delays and revisions to my treatment plan due to COVID-19. I’ve been stressed out about finding transportation options to and from my hospitals. Of course there is the actual fear of COVID-19 impacting my loved ones, healthcare teams, and me.

As someone with a front row seat to the healthcare system at this time, I have called the offices of multiple government officials to express my demands for more effective lockdowns, COVID-19 testing, PPE, and other medical equipment to protect staff and patients. All of those calls were exhausting.

In the past, travel was a means for me to escape whatever was exhausting me.

After I broke up with an ex, I traveled to Hawaii.

After I broke up with another ex, I coordinated a girls’ trip to Miami.

After I broke up with yet another ex, I visited my friends in New York City and flew to Buenos Aires.

(FYI my trips to Hawaii and Buenos Aires were planned before I realized I’d end up breaking up with anyone, but the timing happened so perfectly for the purpose of coping.)

Any time I was having problems with my life in Boston, I’d take the bus down to visit my friends in New York City. For a couple years, NYC was like my second home on the East Coast.

While I have been writing this, I picked up a couple calls from my friends in Chicago. One is able to work from home, and the other cannot. The latter is an occupational therapist at a nursing home in the suburbs. These two friends were part of the girls’ trip to Miami that I mentioned earlier.

Those phone calls were a reminder of how I can’t depend on travel right now as an escape.

For a second, I had the inclination to write, “I’m happy I can at least talk to them on the phone—” but I decided not to type that. It’s dishonest. I’m not happy. I’m not content. I’m grateful that I can talk to them, but I’m more relieved than happy.

Without travel as a coping mechanism, I need to find another way to cope. So far, I can’t find a suggestion that has resonated with me. Until that time comes, I’m giving myself permission to miss travel. Even if it is a temporary loss, it is still worth mourning without judging if it’s worthy of my grief.

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